updated 5/4/2007 10:37:28 PM ET 2007-05-05T02:37:28

Police detained hundreds of opposition activists ahead of a rally Saturday that organizers predict will be the biggest yet in support of Pakistan's ousted chief justice.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf touched off a political storm by suspending Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9 for allegedly abusing his office.

Lawyers and opposition parties have staged a series of anti-Musharraf demonstrations across the country, and hope to draw huge crowds to a rally Saturday in the eastern city of Lahore, where Chaudhry is to speak.

Ameer ul-Azeem, a spokesman for a coalition of religious opposition parties, accused authorities of rounding up "thousands" of activists, mostly in Lahore, to stymie the protest.

A senior provincial official confirmed that police had detained people to prevent any "untoward incidents," but put the number at more than 500. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Nevertheless, Chaudhry Sarfraz, a spokesman for the Lahore High Court Bar Association, which invited Chaudhry to speak, said it expects up to 20,000 people to gather in the court's parking lot.

"It will be a mammoth rally," Sarfraz said Friday.

Government officials say Musharraf moved against Chaudhry after receiving evidence that he misused his office, for instance by seeking a top job for his son and lavish protocol for himself. A panel of his peers from the Supreme Court is examining the case.

However, critics say Musharraf is trying to get rid of an independent-minded judge ahead of possible legal challenges to his continued rule.

Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a 1999 coup, is expected to ask lawmakers to grant him another term as president this fall, but has not said whether he will give up his army post — a stance his opponents say would violate the Constitution.

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